23 SES 01 B, Assessment, Standardisation and Social Justice
The paper focuses on one of several findings derived from the author’s doctoral thesis, submitted successfully in 2014 to the University of Oxford. It argues that both in historical terms and in the present the absence of change to high-stakes assessment systems hinders change to curriculum and pedagogy at a system level.
Literature on assessment as a social practice highlights how assessment systems can be understood as a way of structuring modern societies, as a means of promoting certain types of hegemonic knowledge (Filer, 2000), and as mechanisms that shape our views about ourselves (Broadfoot and Pollard, 2000; Hanson, 2000). As Foucault indicated in 1975 (1991), examinations are among the strongest technologies of discipline, which allow for controlling societies and individuals.
Similarly, this study concludes that ideas on and models of assessment are embedded in ideologies, perspectives about society and educational projects. High-stakes assessment systems both historically and in the present have responded to a functional view of society where individuals have to be distributed in a pre-defined social order (Flórez, forthcoming). This approach contradicts more emancipatory and egalitarian models of society, which have been promoted in different periods and with different names but advocating similar principles. As the high-stakes are on the side of assessment systems, actors in education have tended to follow this direction rather than that of change and reform, generating a vicious cycle where more emancipatory discourses are kept as marginal.
In the current context of expansion of neo-liberal models of education both at a European and international level, high-stakes assessment systems as a technology of power have become particularly salient. In the absence of a strong state to govern education, neo-liberal ideologies have transformed these assessment systems into a means of steering the system at a distance through governing by numbers (Grek, 2008 and 2009; Lawn and Ozga, 2009; Ozga et al., 2009). The pressure that is exerted both on schools, local authorities and national education systems through national and international testing systems which promote competition, rankings and constant quality improvement, have consolidated as a means of moving actors towards a specific direction in terms of what the goals of education are considered to be.
Chile is studied as an extreme case of neo-liberal education, as a market-oriented model was imposed during the dictatorship of Pinochet without any mitigation of the consequences of free market applied to areas such as health, pensions and education. The legislation of that period is still in place today, and Chile is currently one of the most unequal economies in the world (OECD, 2014) with a highly segregated system of education (Valenzuela et al., 2010). In that context, there is an increasing number of assessment systems directed to teachers, schools and students, aimed at informing ‘costumers’ about the quality of the ‘service’ provided by schools. The most pervasive of these systems is Simce, despite recent criticism about its quality, consequences, purposes, constructs, score construction and interpretation (Manzi et al., 2010; Ortiz, 2012; ACER, 2013; Flórez, 2013). The current context repeats the logic observed in previous decades: education is impoverished by turning schools into places where students are trained for testing, while curriculum and pedagogy are expected to follow the direction of more constructivist and critical approaches.
The questions that guided the study on which this paper draws were:
- What are the main systems (with their actors, activities and internal relations) and the main interactions between them involved in assessment reform processes in Chile?
- How are discourses on assessment produced, how do they circulate in this system, and how does knowledge on assessment relate to power issues?
ACER (2013). Evaluation of the Processes and Products related to the Production of Instruments, Field Operations and Data Management of National SIMCE Tests. Santiago: ACER and Agency for Quality in Education. Broadfoot, P. and Pollard, A. (2000). ‘The Changing Discourse of Assessment Policy. The Case of English Primary Education’. In: Filer, An (ed.). Assessment. Social Practice and Social Product. London: Routledge. Even-Zohar, I. (1990). Polysystem Theory. Poetics Today, 11(1), 9-26. Filer, A. (2000) (ed.). Assessment. Social Practice and Social Product. London: Routledge. Flórez, T (2013). Análisis crítico sobre la validez del SIMCE [Critical Analysis of the Validity of SIMCE]. Santiago: CNED. Flórez, T. (published online in 2014, printed versión forthcoming in 2015). Systems, Ideologies and History: A Three-Dimensional Absence in the Study of Assessment Reform Processes. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice. DOI: 10.1080/0969594X.2014.943153, 1-24. Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish (the birth of the prison). London: Penguin. Grek, S. (2008). From symbols to numbers: the shifting technologies of education governance in Europe. European Educational Research Journal, 7(2), 208-218. Grek, S. (2009). Governing by numbers: the PISA 'effect' in Europe. Journal of Education Policy, 24(1), 23-37. Hanson, A. (2000). ‘How tests create what they are intended to measure’. In: Filer, An (ed.). Assessment. Social Practice and Social Product. London: Routledge. Lawn, M. (2008). An Atlantic Crossing? The Work of the International Examination Inquiry, its Researchers, Methods and Influence. Oxford: Symposium. Lawn, M. and Ozga, J. (2009). The sleep of reason breeds monsters: data and education governance in England. Edinburgh: Centre for Educational Sociology. Manzi, J; San Martín, E.; Van Bellegem, S. (2010). School system evaluation by value-added analysis under endogeneity. Belgium: Centre for Operations Research and Econometrics. OCDE (2014). Society at a Glance. Paris: OECD. Available at: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org Ortiz, I. (2012). En torno a la validez del Sistema de Medición de la Calidad de la Educación en Chile [About the validity of the Quality Measuring System of Education in Chile]. Estudios pedagógicos, 38(2), 355-373. Ozga, J., Grek, S. and Lawn, M. (2009). The New Production of Governing Knowledge. Soziale Welt. 4, 353-371. Valenzuela, J.P.; Bellei, C; De los Ríos, D. (2010). ‘Segregación Escolar en Chile’ [School segregation in Chile]. In: Martinic, S. and Elaqua, G. (eds.). ¿Fin de ciclo? Cambios en la gobernanza del sistema educativo. Santiago: UNESCO and Universidad Católica de Chile.
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